January 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

Will.i.apps Debuts First 360-Degree Music Video for Smartphone

Will.i.am, of the pop group Black Eyed Peas has teamed with entrepreneur Edo Segal to launch a new company called will.i.apps, which unveiled a first-of-its-kind augmented reality video app on Monday that places the viewer in the center of the action. Users can look up, down, left or right through their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (demonstrated above) from “within” this 360-degree music video, pinching or spreading the screen to zoom in or out.

The $3 BEP360 app is not only fascinating, but offers a model for music distribution that Segal — who co-founded will.i.apps with will.i.am — said offers a potentially profitable model for other bands. Instead of sitting there passively while listening to or watching the Black Eyed Peas having a good time, fans can feel like they’re joining the group for a house party. It’s not quite like being there, of course, but it comes closer than other recorded media formats.

This 360-degree music video flexes the app’s ability to deliver a new musical experience rather than replicating the old ones, for which many fans are no longer willing to pay, Segal explained to Evolver.fm:

“One of the core things that need to change for the media industry in order for it to really benefit from the revolution caused by disruptions like the [iTunes] app store is that the product needs to change. It’s not just about how to re-package the same old media in different ways, and expecting revenue to continue to climb. Rather, it’s about understanding that the media is changing, and there’s a huge opportunity to program for those new mediums and create value for consumers — value that they’ll be willing to pay for, that’s not just an MP3 that they can rip.”

Aside from the fact that we don’t know what “ripping” an MP3 means, Segal is onto something here: If you want to sell something to someone, it helps if it’s something they don’t already have — or can’t easily get for free. Apps such as this qualify, and the versatility of the app format, as compared to digital music files that are basically file-based approximations of the CD single, has opened the door for all sorts of neat stuff like this, giving fans something new and artists something green.

BEP360, the will.i.apps augmented reality iPhone app lets you snap pictures of band members with their Twitter messages above their heads, with your local surroundings as the backdrop.

BEP360, the will.i.apps augmented reality iPhone app also lets you snap pictures of band members with their Twitter messages above their heads, with your local surroundings as the backdrop.

Some of the magic behind this app comes from the augmented reality (AR) company Metaio, which created the engine that coordinates the direction your iOS device is facing with which part of the 360-degree video is shown; and 3D360, whose technology captured the footage in three dimensions.

Apple’s current iOS devices can only display video in two dimensions, but when smartphones with 3D displays become available (such as those being worked on by Nvidia and Nintendo), this video will appear in 3D on those platforms, making it even more immersive, not to mention cool.

Creating this three-dimensional, 360-degree video required 16 stereoscopic cameras and one omni-directional camera in the center of the action, where the viewer is located in virtual space. Using image-stitching software, will.i.apps and friends joined the footage taken by the 16 cameras with the central, omni-directional camera to create the smooth 360-degree video reality displayed by the app. Even the menus are 360-degrees; in order to move from one menu item to the next, the viewer simply spins to the left or right.

In case you haven’t encountered augmented reality before, the term refers to applications that “augment” one’s real-world surroundings with an overlay of visual and other data to combine real and virtual worlds. This BEP360 differs from most of those, in that it does not overlay the dancers and members of the band onto your actual surroundings. Instead, the only part of the user’s world that is included in the app is the direction in which they are pointing the phone, which technically makes it more of an “immersive reality” app.

That’s splitting hairs though — what matters here is that the app is really neat, and will be worthwhile to fans of the band. Point the phone in any direction and pan left or right, and the scene automatically scrolls to a new view in real time. It’s an approximate simulation of what would happen if you were to stand in the middle of the filming of a Black Eyed Peas video and look around at all the action — but without being forcibly escorted from the premises.